Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Make Sure Those Pesky Introductory Phrases and Clauses Agree With the Subjects They Modify

Wrong: While riding a bus, the tornado ripped through our town.

The Rule: Make sure introductory phrases or clauses agree with the subjects they modify.

If you can read, mark and inwardly digest this rule and the related Harbrace rule below, it will add many points to your score in the grammar section of the PSAT and the SAT. They both have lots of questions requiring you to correct sentences with imprecise antecedents and dangling modifiers. (See the SAT Question of the Day below for a good "imprecise antecedent" example.)

There are two ways to fix the sentence above:
1) While I was riding a bus, the tornado ripped through our town.
2) While riding a bus, I saw the tornado rip through our town.

This is covered in Harbrace 25b: Revise Dangling Modifiers

Although any misplaced word, phrase, or clause can be said to dangle, the term dangling modifier applies primarily to incoherent verbal phrases and elliptical clauses (that is, clauses with implied subjects and verbs) that do not refer clearly and logically to other words in the sentence.

To correct a dangling modifier, rearrange the words in the sentence to make the modifier clearly refer to the right word, or add words to make the meaning clear and logical.

When verbal phrases or elliptical clauses come at the beginning of a sentence, the normal English word order requires that they immediately precede and clearly refer to the subject of the sentence.

Turn to Section 25 of Harbrace for excellent illustrations of the many kinds of dangling modifiers.

SAT Question of the Day™
NOVEMBER 30, 2005

Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.

Although less important to the early development of jazz than New Orleans and Chicago, New York City's contributions were important toward transforming jazz out of a quaint, little-known folk music into an international genre of great significance.

a) New York City's contributions were important toward transforming jazz out of
b) New York City's contributions were important as they transformed jazz from
c) the contributions made by New York City were important in transforming jazz out of
d) New York City made important contributions toward transforming jazz from
e) New York City made important contributions, they transformed jazz out of

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